Indira Gandhi and the Sikhs could never hit it off. They have shared an unfriendly relationship over the years and the scars of atrocities commited against the Sikh community still form the basis for many television debates. It is also discussed in the homes of many affected Sikh families.
Most of the victims of the 1984 riots have still not received justice. They run from pillar to post but achive nothing. The UPA Government, in its helplessness to protect party members like Jagdish Tytler and the others, stonewalled and controlled all investigations. History is laden with incidents of friction between the two.
You only have to go back to as far as the Emergency days.
Not too long after the Emergency was declared in 1975, the Sikh leadership organized meetings in Amritsar, where they pledged to combat the dictatorial nature of the Congress”, and Indira Gandhi in particular. “Campaign to Save Democracy” was one of the first rallies organized by the Akali Dal. The Sikh community issued a statement, which talked about the Sikh struggle for freedom under the Mughals and the British, and then raised serious concerns about all their past struggles and accomplishments being forgotten by the Indira Gandhi regime. The ‘Iron Lady’ ensured the presence of a large number of police force. Protestors were arrested, including the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) leaders.
The Sikh leaders, proud and fierce, shook Indira Gandhi, forcing her to come out of her comfort zone and deal with the matter on their terms. She knew very well that if she didn’t bow down before the Sikhs, civil disobedience could spread to other parts. She didn’t need the headache. She negotiated with the Shiromani Akali Dal and gave them what they wanted – joint control of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal, the leader of the Sikh pack, refused to meet the Government officials, saying they should first lift off the Emergency.
In one of the “Save Democracy” campaigns, he said:
“The question before us is not whether Indira Gandhi should continue to be prime minister or not. The point is whether democracy in this country is to survive or not. The democratic structure stands on three pillars, namely a strong opposition, independent judiciary and free press. Emergency has destroyed all these essentials.”
The ‘Blue star operation’ was yet another example of the tussle between Indira Gandhi and the Sikhs. It took the animosity between the two to a different level. Indira Gandhi, without considering the many dangerous factors, ordered the army to storm the Golden Temple and flush out the hiding terrorists. At the end of the massacre, eighty three army men and 492 civilians died in Operation Bluestar. It was a stain that refuses to leave our collective psyche. All kinds of weapons and machinery was used to suppres the bold Sikhs. The Bhindranwale and his mini army, and the Akal Takht, the most sacred seat of power for the Sikhs, was razed to the ground.
It was the unethical thing to do and the manner in which power was exploited to make a personal point still makes us wonder about the legacy of Congress.
Operation Blue Star led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge in 1984. Most Sikhs did not mourn her death. There were quiet celebrations reported in various places across India.
The Sikhs, though, couldn’t get away with it. Killing the Prime Minister triggred a countrywide purge of the Sikhs. They began to take revenge for the death of their Prime Minister and all Sikhs were held responsible in the eyes of the mob. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots were directed and instigated by the members of the Congress party. There were about 2800 avoidable deaths all over India, including 2100 in Delhi alone. The Central Bureau of Investigation, in its reports has alleged that the bloodshed was made possible because of the help from the Delhi Police and the central government officials. It was revealing and shocking. Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister after his mother’s death and, when asked about the riots, said, ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes’.
Even Amitabh Bachchan instigated people against the Sikhs. During the 1984 Sikh Genocide, Amitabh Bachchan was shown on national Indian television inciting people to kill Sikhs after the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He said, ‘Sikhs had not only assassinated Indira Gandhi, they had killed the mother of the nation as well. He raised the slogan, ‘Khoon ke cheente Indira ko marne ke gharon tak pahuchne chaiye’(The bloodstains must reach the houses of those who killed Indira Gandhi).
How could Amitabh Bachchan blame the whole Sikh community because of two criminal people belonging to their community?